12/29/2006 1:00AM

Valbenny adapts quickly to U.S.


ARCADIA, Calif. - With an interrupted preparation schedule and modest form in Europe, Valbenny was somewhat ignored in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25.

That changed in the final furlong. Valbenny caught everyone's attention when she rallied from 10th in a field of 12 to win the one-mile turf race by three-quarters of a length.

"It was a pleasant surprise," trainer Paddy Gallagher said.

Valbenny makes her second start in California in Sunday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes for 2-year-old fillies over a mile on turf. She has drawn the rail in a field of 13.

The biggest threat to Valbenny comes from Good Mood. One of four European imports in the field, Good Mood finished second in a listed stakes in the French provinces in August. She joined trainer Patrick Biancone's stable in the fall.

Valbenny was a winner in Scotland in July and was ready to start at Oak Tree in October, but her campaign was delayed after she developed mucus, Gallagher said.

Gallagher said Valbenny has trained well since the Miesque.

"She acts the same," he said. "It will be interesting to see her race."

CHRB investigates father-son claim

The California Horse Racing Board has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the claim of the maiden Tactics by trainer Gus Headley from the stable of his father, Bruce Headley, in Thursday's third race at Santa Anita.

The investigation will not include input from CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin, the sister-in-law of Bruce Headley and an aunt of Gus Headley. Thursday evening, Fermin recused herself from the investigation.

"In the event that any decisions need to be made by the executive staff of the CHRB, Richard Bon Smith, the CHRB assistant executive director, will make those decisions," Fermin said in a statement

Tactics, a first-time starter, finished fifth as the 9-5 favorite, and was claimed for $80,000 by owner Chris York and Gus Headley. According to track stewards, York initiated the claim and no other claims were submitted.

"From what we can gather, the owner took out the claim slip," steward Tom Ward said.

Bruce Headley said Friday that no discussions about Tactics had been held between him and his son.

"There's no collusion, no nothing," he said. "It was out of the clear blue sky. When you have them in for sale, any trainer can claim."

Asked about the claim on Friday, Gus Headley said only, "There's nothing tricky about it."

Gus Headley trains a six-horse stable, while Bruce Headley has 40 horses. While the two stables are based alongside each other, Bruce Headley said that Gus no longer works for him, having previously worked as an assistant trainer to his father. Gus began training his own horses earlier in 2006.

Headley said he wished he had not lost Tactics.

"You always feel a little sad," Headley said. "I like all my horses. I felt a lot worse when I lost Choctaw Nation."

Choctaw Nation was claimed away from Headley for $40,000 in 2004. Choctaw Nation later became a millionaire and a multiple stakes winner.

C'mon Tiger displays talent

C'Mon Tiger's three-length win in a maiden race on Thursday has left trainer Bob Baffert optimistic that the half-brother to 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow will develop into a stakes horse in 2007.

"I think he's got a tremendous future," Baffert said. "He's starting to change now. Hopefully, we can win some big races with this horse."

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, the 3-year-old C'Mon Tiger raced near the front throughout, and finished a mile in 1:36.43 to earn a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

The race was C'Mon Tiger's first start since being purchased privately by Texan Jim Helzer from Michael Tabor. C'Mon Tiger made one start for Tabor earlier this year, finishing fourth in a maiden race in Ireland in June.

"He acts like he wants to run all day long," Baffert said of C'Mon Tiger.

Despite his compliments, Baffert said that C'Mon Tiger is not the best-looking horse in the barn.

"I can see why they sold him," Baffert said. "He won't wow you."

Santa Monica next for Indian Flare

Foals out of the mare True Flare have dominated stakes in the first few days of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. Tuesday, her son Latent Heat won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Thursday, her daughter Indian Flare won the Kalookan Queen Handicap.

Indian Flare ($5.40) led throughout the Kalookan Queen, winning by a half-length over 3-2 favorite Somethinaboutlaura. River Savage finished third in the field of six fillies and mares.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farms, Indian Flare ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.76, and received a 98 Beyer. The Kalookan Queen was Indian Flare's first stakes win in 13 starts. She has won four races and $239,826.

"She used to try to get out," Frankel said Friday. "Yesterday, she did, barely, but [was] very manageable. She doesn't need to be on the lead, to be honest."

Frankel said that Indian Flare will be pointed to the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap over seven furlongs on Jan. 28.

Heavenly Ransom retired

Graded stakes winner Heavenly Ransom has been retired and shipped to Kentucky to be bred to Unbridled's Song, according to trainer Ray Bell. A 4-year-old filly by Red Ransom, Heavenly Ransom won 5 of 6, including the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap in April, but her summer-fall campaign was cut short by a throat abscess.

"We were trying to bring her back, but it would have been February or March before she was ready," Bell said. "Other than win a Grade 1, it would be hard to improve on what she's already done."

Heavenly Ransom is owned by Vicken and Susan Meguerditchian, and earned $181,720. The Meguerditchians also own Heavenly Ransom's 5-year-old half-brother, Capitano, who is scheduled to run Sunday in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap. Bell said plans call for Heavenly Ransom to be sold next fall while in foal.

- additional reporting by Brad Free